This Whole “JR Smith” Thing Has Run Its Course

JR Smith really is a lost cause, man.

Friday night against Boston, the entire Knick fan base, despite another loss, was in awe over the apparent constraint shown by Smith. The two-guard put up just one shot in 27 minutes. To some (including the MSG broadcast team), this was a blatant issue in the Knicks offense. To others, it was an unusual display of distribution and level-headedness.

If only. As Frank Isola of the Daily News reported late Saturday night, that performance was anything but. Per the beat writer, Smith and coach Mike Woodson exchanged heated words following a win against the Bulls, discussing the guard’s morbid shot selection. In his predictably childish ways, JR took it upon himself to prove his worth to the coach the next night out.

His one-shot output at Boston wasn’t any sudden spark of basketball IQ, but rather an outburst to spite his head coach, the one person who’s stuck a neck out for him over the last two years. As if to say “You don’t want me to shoot as much? Fine, I won’t shoot at all. Watch what happens.” It also explains Woodson’s uneasiness when answering why Smith was so passive that night. The coach was uncharacteristically fidgety, constantly tapping his fingers around the microphone while at an apparent loss for words. When asked if it was in the gameplan, he responded “No,” with an awkward grin and a few finger taps.

The twisted part is that it was the best, most consistent JR had looked all year, only to revert back to his usual ways the next night (He shot 1-for-8 and finished with two points against Atlanta on Saturday in 24 minutes). While looking on as a spectator during the closing minutes, something he’s rarely been asked to do since signing on in early 2012, Smith was caught burying his face into his arms as the Knicks clinched a hard-to-come-by victory on their home floor. Because he’s the best, Pablo Prigioni was there by his side, doing his best to provide guidance to Smith, patting him down and talking him up. It’s not in Pablo’s character to give up on anyone. He’s even been caught on MSG film providing guidance to a sulking Smith before (also at home against Atlanta, if memory serves.) But by now, it’s clear that JR Smith will change for nobody, regardless the circumstances. He’s simply not worth the time of anyone willing to lend a word of advice. It’ll slide in one ear, out the other, and be completely forgotten by the time the next blunt is lit.

The guy is beyond coaching. He isn’t a sufficient second offensive option, and his best role is catch-and-shoot specialist—a role he’d never contently fill. A glorified Steve Novak.

Thinking of Smith reminds me of a Nas lyric you may find familiar from the best diss record published in my lifetime. It goes: “And that’s the guy y’all chose to name your company after?”

With or without context, the bar bears basically no resemblance to the Knicks organization, except for a few quick points.

The Knicks aren’t “naming” themselves after Smith, but it damn sure isn’t far off from it. Remember, this is the guy whom James Dolan thought so highly of that bringing on his non-talent brother was an absolute must, two seasons in a row. Only since his job has been on the line has Woodson resorted to benching Smith in pursuit of a win. Also, 23-year-old Iman Shumpert is a living, breathing trade rumor, despite being the more promising player between the two, and showing every bit of what a winning basketball player needs to possess during last year’s postseason. (It’s easy to forget, but those Knicks may well have gotten swept by Indiana if it wasn’t for Shumpert’s hustle and clutch shooting. Maybe I’m a bit of a Shump homer, and maybe that’s some hyperbole, but that’s how I saw it.)

Regardless, JR is the guy New York is riding with. Don’t expect Dolan, the acting general manager these days, to ship away the player he’s gone out of his way to accommodate over parts of three seasons. I find it hard to believe that a coach would invest trust, for so long, in a player that’s done almost nothing to deserve it. This smells to me (somebody who knows absolutely nothing about the organization) like JR’s minutes being demanded from the bearded fellow sitting bemused on the baseline, while probably critiquing the team’s dance routine.

Or maybe that’s just me clinging on the the thread of hope that my team’s head coach has some common sense deep down, somewhere under that beautifully bald scalp.

Anyway, Woodson will probably get canned for another extension of Dolan soon, and Shumpert will almost definitely be traded (the only reason he hasn’t been traded this week was because it would’ve upset another Dolan grudge, with Masai Urjiri). All while Smith will probably receive his typical 35 minutes of burn nightly, and probably be marketed as one of the team’s lead faces over the course of his four-year deal.

For Dolan? Business as usual.

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Should the Knicks Consider Trading Carmelo Anthony to the Lakers?

Yeah, this one’s not gonna go over too well with some fans. Don’t worry though, the chances of James Dolan signing off on dealing his top-billed ticket-seller are slimmer than those of New York actually winning a title under his catastrophic rule. Though if the Knicks continue to struggle so mightily, the front office should absolutely gauge the trade market for Carmelo Anthony.

It’s not an indictment of Anthony, but rather the opposite. Carmelo’s been one of the only positives for New York this season, averaging an insane 26.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest. But, with the team looking every bit the disaster we dreaded—or overlooked—all summer, maybe it’s time to at least consider getting some sort of return.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like an easy task. Of teams contending for a 2014 title, none seem to be desperate enough to sacrifice a package of young players and/or draft picks in exchange for a half-season of ‘Melo.

But… wait one second. That word up there. Desperate. Hmm. Maybe there’s one team that would be willing to make a move to land one of the league’s biggest names.

Maybe the Los Angeles Lakers, with space left for one max-level player in 2014 after re-signing Kobe Bryant for nearly $50 million this week, would be the buyer.

And before you say to yourself, “Well, that doesn’t seem to make much sense. Carmelo could just sign with the Lakers over the summer. Why would the Lakers trade for him?,” remember that the difference between offering Anthony $130 million and $96 million lies in his Bird rights. Anthony has never left money on the table: Not in 2006, nor in 2011.

There’s little evidence that’d lead you to believe he’d pass up $35 million.  ‘Melo’s probably re-signing with the team that has him at the end of the year. That’s all the leverage the Knicks need in trade negotiations.

Now, peering up and down the Lakers assets, there’s little they have to offer in terms of players or picks. They can’t trade a first-round pick until 2019, and their current roster is comprised almost solely of one-year, bottom-of-the-barrel stopgaps.

However, there’s still one way Los Angeles could make this deal worthwhile for the Knicks. It could bring back Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract along with Anthony.

Clearing New York’s books of Stoudemire’s two-year, $45 million commitment—and not dumping an even more massive albatross on the Knicks—is perhaps the biggest favor any team could offer. In doing so, Los Angeles would land its star, who’d all but be forced to re-sign in Hollywood for more money than any other team could offer; and New York would have successfully dealt away one of the biggest financial handicaps in the history of the league.

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 2.47.00 AM

With a re-signed Carmelo, a re-signed Kobe, Nick Young and Robert Sacre, L.A.’s salary figure would be at $48.1 million. The 2014 cap is estimated to come in at $62.1 million, so STAT would impede the Lakers’ 2014 spending by about $12 million. He comes off the books after that season.

L.A. wouldn’t be able to care less about the players outgoing in the deal. All but Steve Nash’s are set to expire after this year, and would be renounced by the Lakers to create cap room—room they plan on using to sign Anthony anyway.

The Knicks would be taking on Nash’s contract, which, while not as obtrusive as Amar’e’s, is still a handicap in its own right. But the other four players New York would receive would open a whopping $28,337,850 in space, once they expire after the season.

This would slide New York under the salary cap for the summer of 2014—with roughly $11 million in space—with a core of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Tyson Chandler still in tact. Finding a way to deal Smith or Andrea Bargnani could open up room for a near-max or max-level deal, which might be cool to have during the summer that LeBron’s a free agent. Just in case.

So, is this a deal that New York would have to consider, should it be brought to them? Sure. But it’ll only exist in a make-believe universe, on the internet, in this little blog post. Would James Dolan ever consider trading his superstar to a rival market, no matter how beneficial it’d be for the team’s future? Not a chance.

Anthony will likely end the year with the Knicks after a best-case-scenario early-round exit. He’ll re-up with the team for the maximum $130 million over the next five years, and he’ll take up the majority of the team’s salary cap until he’s 35, in pursuit of the first championship that’s eluded him for a decade.

And to Jim Dolan, it’s all business as usual.

A version of this post can be found here.

The Knicks Bringing on Metta World Peace would be Hilariously Brilliant

Metta World Peace in a Knicks hat hugging watermelons

Metta World Peace in a Knicks hat hugging watermelons

This summer was set to be a crucial factor in determining the New York Knicks’ fate for 2014. Despite re-signing two of their own impact free agents in J.R. Smith and Pablo Prigioni, Mike Woodson’s roster is still riddled with holes throughout, and devoid of a key two-way player—that is, one that thrives on both offense and defense.

New York also desperately needs a third point guard—enabling Woodson to run out starting lineups consisting of two point men, which were extremely successful last season—and a starting small forward that complements Carmelo Anthony’s skillset at the 4.

The latter, prototypically a “3&D wing,” seemed to be a high priority for Glen Grunwald at the onset of free agency. But as the days passed, and negotiations ceased, the exception-strapped Knicks—they only have $1.75 million of their midlevel exception and veteran’s minimum contracts at their disposal—watched helplessly as their wing targets signed elsewhere.

Francisco Garcia re-upped with the Houston Rockets. Dorrell Wright inked a new deal with the Portland Trailblazers. Matt Barnes was offered $11.5 million from the Los Angeles Clippers, which the Knicks didn’t have a prayer of matching. Carlos Delfino joined the Milwaukee Bucks on a three-year deal, and just like that, the Knicks were out of options. (All links here.)

That was until Sunday evening at 5 p.m. ET, when it was announced that the NBA’s newest free agent would be hitting the market immediately—somebody who’s no stranger to the Big Apple.

Forty-eight hours after being amnestied by the Los Angeles Lakers, forward Metta World Peace cleared waivers and is now an unrestricted free agent. The Knicks are reportedly “strong frontrunners” to sign the former Ron Artest, according to Yahoo! Sports.

World Peace will still receive the $7,727,280 he’s due from the Lakers this season, which means that New York’s lack of financial resources hardly comes into play. The Knicks could offer a minimum salary (roughly $1.4 million for World Peace), or the $1.75 million left of the MLE.

At 34, World Peace will hardly be in his prime by the middle of next season. The former Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Defensive first teamer will not be expected to play like it’s 2004, but will still heal a sore spot for the Knicks from last season.

The 2012-13 Knicks lacked a long, talented defender that could check wings from the three-point line and in—World Peace, even at his advanced age, brings that to the table.

In the table below, via 82games.com, you’ll see that New York struggled to keep opposing small forwards at bay all year long. Aside from rival point guards, which the Knicks were consistently torched by in 2013, small forwards were the next largest issue.

Opponent Production by Position

Position FGA eFG% FTA iFG Reb Ast T/O Blk PF Pts PER*
PG 18.5 .513 4.4 25% 5.1 7.5 3.7 0.2 3.1 22.6 17.5
SG 16.5 .491 4.1 19% 5.4 3.8 2.6 0.3 3.2 19.5 13.1
SF 14.8   .549   4.0   24%  7.2   2.9   2.4   0.6   3.6   19.3   15.8  
PF 14.9 .484 4.8 38% 10.4 2.8 2.6 1.1 4.1 17.9 14.9
C 12.9 .505 4.9 53% 13.5 2.2 3.3 1.8 5.2 16.4 15.5

With this in mind, take a look at the performance of World Peace’s opponents at the small forward position last year in LA—again via 82games. A vast improvement over the Knicks’ 3s from a season ago.

Opponent Counterpart 48-Minute Production

Position FGA eFG% FTA iFG Reb Ast T/O Blk PF Pts PER*
SF 14.8 .478   2.5 27% 6.8   3.1 2.0 .7 3.6 16.0   11.8 

The Mike D’Antoni-led Lakers’ struggles on the defensive end were well-documented last season, but LA allowed approximately two points per 100 possessions less when World Peace was on the court.

The 2013 Knicks were an incomprehensible disappointment on the defensive end, and another failed season in that regard will more than likely lead to an accelerated rebuild. Last year’s team finished 17th in defensive efficiency according to HoopData—the bottom half of the league.

As depicted below, New York’s lofty championship expectations for 2013 really couldn’t have been more delusional. The defense wasn’t ever close to championship-caliber—in 2013, or any year in recent history.

wwwswswss

The Knicks need as much help as financially possibly on defense, and adding the St. John’s alum would be a couple of steps in the right direction.

On the offensive end, Metta doesn’t have a whole lot to offer these days, but nevertheless could slide seamlessly into the Knicks’ offense. At its best and its worst, the New York attack is funneled primarily through Carmelo Anthony, via isolations and post-ups.

As the team found out in playoff matchups against the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers, Anthony is unable to create much offense at all without space to work with. That space is created by shooters that open the floor, dragging defenders from the paint to the perimeter.

Without it, Carmelo Anthony—i.e. the Knicks’ offense—looks like this:

World Peace has shot a mediocre .328 from three-point range over the last two seasons with Los Angeles, which is bad. But what’s good is that Ron Ron (does that still work?) shot over 37 percent on corner threes last year, which is about the clip at which New York stroked it from there in 2013.

This is especially important since Woodson tends to stick his wing players in either corner, where they await open three chances. Just ask Iman Shumpert, who heaved more than one more three-pointer per 36 minutes last year compared to his rookie campaign. His 43 percent success rate from the corners played a gigantic role in the team’s late-regular-season resurgence, and displayed what the prototypical offensive accessory accomplishes in Woodson’s offense.

The Queensbridge native would further benefit from Woodson’s veteran-favoring coaching schemes, solely based off his 13 years in the league. The Knicks practically define “win-now,” and tossing World Peace into the fold for 2014—at the very least—wouldn’t do anything to hurt their chances in the short term.

Make no mistake: The roster is still messy. Amar’e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani may be in the starting lineup on a consistent basis. The way to avoid that terrifying scenario is to run both defensively challenged forwards out in the same second unit, which would be even more hilarious for opposing teams. Catch 22—or 77, maybe.

The team still needs one last point guard, even though Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Shumpert are already set to battle for minutes in the backcourt.

Fixing the Knicks for 2014 won’t be easy, and adding World Peace wouldn’t boost the Knicks into contention with the Miami Heat in and of itself. It does, however, patch a very important hole on the roster, while adding another battle-tested body that’s tasted the champagne before.

The signing could like set up a starting five of Felton, Shumpert, World Peace, Anthony, and Chandler. Smith would remain the team’s sixth man, and we can only hope that Woodson trusts Prigioni with at least a ~18 MPG role. With Smith, Shumpert, Metta, and occasionally Anthony all likely splitting time at the 3 spot, and the team’s backcourt already crowded, this could leave Hardaway Jr. primarily on the bench to open his career—not necessarily the worst thing in the world, in my opinion.

The Knicks still need a backup center to defend and rebound down low, but in the meantime, Stoudemire and Bargnani are both going to have to play. The way that shakes out will likely be a nightmare, but interesting nonetheless.

I should probably mention that MWP’s current jersey number, 15, is up in the MSG rafters twice. With Bargnani already rocking a strange No. 77, a World Peace signing could put the Knicks atop the weirdo jersey number preseason rankings.

And, c’mon. @TheRealJRSmith and @MettaWorldPeace in the same damn locker room? This, times, like 3245873df23f34333000. Do it for QB, Ron. Run with us.

In short, if we can squeeze one more of these pressers out of Metta, then we’re all winners.

Follow John Dorn on Twitter at @JSDorn6.

Stats from HoopData, Hoopsworld, 82games, NBA.com/Stats and Basketball-Reference.

Where Art Thou, Pablo?: Why Prigs needs some big boy minutes

Let’s get this out of the way first: Pablo Prigioni is awesome. OK. Now disregarding how cool the guy is, let’s talk about why he needs more playing time from a strictly basketball perspective.

Judging by net-rating, Pablo is included in 8 of the Knicks’ 11 most efficient three-man groups (via NBA.com/Stats).

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Admittedly, many of the above threesomes come in very small sample sizes, but only because of Prigioni’s miniature dose of minutes in general—he’s logging 14.6 minutes for Mike Woodson on average.

So let’s bump up the criteria a bit. Below are the Knicks’ most efficient three-man lineups that have played at least 80 minutes together.

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Notice that Pablo still runs with three of these six best Knicks trios. And the Tyson-Felton-Kurt lineup just barely made the cut at 83 minutes. So there’s that.

Prigs’ minutes had been on the decline ever since Jason Kidd relocated to the second team to run point, essentially bumping Pablo out of the rotation. His burn dipped down to just 12.6 minutes per game from Feb. 6 to March 17.

Mike Woodson has recently tried to find minutes for Prigioni by plugging him in as starting point guard, shifting Ray Felton over to the 2. In three games as a #starer, Pablo has received the following minutes: 20, 20, 10—the 10 being most recent, and most concerning, considering his play didn’t particularly warrant a severe minutes slash (it rarely does), and Kidd, a day shy of 40 years old, was run out for 31 minutes. The Knicks play the last half of their back-to-back against Toronto tonight, so perhaps Woody may have been preserving Prigioni for the second leg of the home-and-home.

Whatever the case may be, Prigs has the ability to play a big role in the offense. He’s deserving of well more than the 14.6 minutes he averages on the year, and even the 16.6 he’s logged in the last 10 games. His minutes need to be leaning more towards the 20 from his first two starts than the 10 from his last, and if Woodson says it’s hard to find minutes for him, then tough shit! That’s part of the job as an NBA coach—to have the optimal personnel on the court at all times. And if it means cutting down Kidd’s minutes—no matter how much Woody likes having a “coach on the court”—too bad.

It’s not even as if playing Prigioni more hurts the team on either side of the ball. Since Dec. 15—the team’s last 45 games—Prigs has shot 43 percent from the field, 39.2 from the arc, and 93 from the stripe while dishing out three assists on average in 15 minutes per game. Compare that to Kidd’s line of 33 percent from the field, 29 from downtown, and 75 from the free-throw line, adding roughly the same amount of assists in 27 minutes. The argument could be made that Kidd should be the one averaging 15 minutes.

Sure, at 35 he’s not going to keep up in a foot race with younger 1s, but the same can be said (moreso) about Kidd. And we haven’t even mentioned Pablo’s awesome inbounds steals that we get to see about once a game.

And unlike the elder Knicks brethren he shares a locker room with, aside from a few back flare-ups, Prigioni has been relatively injury-free. Of course, this can be attributed to his lack of burn, but he’s played big-time minutes consistently—and healthily—as recently as last summer. As starting point man for the Argentinian national team, Prigioni averaged 28 minutes per game, including 36 and 37-minute performances. None of his six Olympic games were played more than four days apart.

Looking at it from all angles, it’s a real mystery why Prigioni is such an afterthought in Woodson’s rotation. Let’s just hope the madness comes to an end soon, because let’s face it: We can all use some more Prigs in our lives. Especially the Knicks.

Knicks Adjustments Need to Start at the Head (the very shiny head)

Mike Woodson

Photo via USA Today

I’ll admit I was weary when the Knicks re-signed Mike Woodson to a long-term deal last summer, fresh off another first-round playoff flop. I’ll also admit that I was a member of the gullible crowd just months ago that was convinced Mike Woodson was Coach of the Year material. After watching this Knicks team rise, fall, and level off through the last four months, I’ve realized I was wrong on both occasions.

When the man with the sparkling scalp, and the goatee an illustrator dreams of, took over Mike D’Antoni’s disgraced Knicks team, he arrived with a pretty mediocre reputation. Woody was D’Antoni’s defensive guy, and no one questioned his ability to preach defense. But his offensive schemes were an entirely different story.

As Hawks head man, Woodson made use of very few offensive sets, and often gave his star Joe Johnson free reign to run the show — what you and I know as “Iso-Joe.” This, more or less, held true last season in his 24 regular season games. But it worked. Carmelo Anthony’s USG% rose from 33 percent under D’Antoni to 37 percent under Woodson, and the Knicks rattled off 18 wins in those final 24 to finish seventh in the East. Then the matchup with Miami in the first round. Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis torn ACLs, confetti, streamers, blah blah blah. Carmelo’s USG% clocked in at 40.72 percent for the series, and the Knicks were done in 5.

Knicks management then decided to reward Woodson for his regular season run with a 3-year deal. This worried me. The guy could motivate and preach defense. We all knew that. But something about locking in your future with a coach whose career playoff record was 12-22 didn’t settle the right way. Call me crazy.

But the 2012-13 season began, and sure enough, Mike Woodson coached like nobody had ever seen him coach before.

There were passes. Passes everywhere. And screens. Off-ball screens. On-ball screens. Melo setting screens! It was as if you’d hooked the Knicks up to the computer on the hardest setting in 2K. Ray Felton, not Anthony, initiated the offense. Jason Kidd was at the wing on standby in case the ball needed a kickstart on its trip around the set. The ball flung rapidly about each Knick until one of the five found an open look.

Seriously, the passing was something else. Carmelo was using The Force to pass out of double-teams. He knew where all four other guys were at every second, and if his shot wasn’t there, he’d give it up. And oh yeah, J.R. Smith was passing.

J.R. Smith was passing.

And the defense, as we all expected, was among the league’s best. They destroyed the Miami Heat on opening night by allowing just 84 points. They didn’t allow more than 90 in three of their first four matchups. Through the first nine games, the Knicks were rocking a defense efficiency of 97.4, which would place second in the league right now. There were a few close calls, but Woody’s Knicks were murking teams almost every night out thanks to a dizzying array of passes and smothering defense.

Then those nine games were up. The Knicks were in Dallas in a nail-biter — the first late-game situation with Mike Woodson on the spot. It was 112-111 Dallas with 24 seconds left on the clock. The Knicks had been killing the Mavs in pick-and-rolls all night. Felton had 11 dimes and Tyson Chandler racked up 21 points. Woodson had been drawing up stellar plays out of timeouts all year. We were on the edge of our collective seat to watch the magic about to unfold. Then Woody just couldn’t kick his urge.

2012-13 got it’s first taste of Iso-Melo. He took the ball to the left, got Shawn Marion in the air on a ball fake but decided on the pull-up jumper. It missed, and the Knicks failed their first crunch time test of the season.

From that night on, the Knicks have been getting away from everything I just wrote about (aside from Iso-Melo). The most stark — and unexplainable — dropoff is the defense. Since those first nine games, the team’s defensive efficiency is 106. Overall that number stands at 102.9, or 14th league-wide (via HoopData). The Knicks went from being a top-five defense to a bottom-five defense in an alarmingly short time.

One of the most infuriating aspects of the defense’s demise comes directly from Woodson himself. Per his instruction, Knicks defenders switch on nearly every play involving a pick, instead of fighting through the screen. This leaves the Knicks with terribly unfavorable matchups all across the court — and far too often. The defensive woes were all supposed to vanish when Iman Shumpert rejoined the team in January. Due to a combination of (understandable) slow recovery on Shumpert’s part, and Woodson insisting on playing him out of position at small forward and not guarding the opposing point guard, Shump’s been the subject of league-wide slander for about a month.

Woodson has also neglected to remove Jason Kidd from the starting lineup, when it’s blatantly obvious he’s been overrun to this point. The glorious, reborn Kidd from the season’s first two months is only a faint memory now. These days, Kidd is everything you’d expect a 39-year-old point guard to be: really bad. Since Jan. 1, Kidd has shot 27 percent from the arc and 32 percent from the field. Yet he’s stil the Knicks starting shooting guard (Shumpert’s natural position), and Shump is still at the 3.

Woody has stuck with the same starting five for 12 of the last 13 games. The Knicks are 6-7 in them.

And that cool, team-oriented offense with the picks and the passes and stuff? That’s been on hiatus for almost as long as the defense has. For the last month, the offense is essentially this sequence:

  1. Felton or Anthony bring the ball up.
  2. Tyson receives the ball at the top of the key. Tyson passes it to the other side.
  3. Some unproductive passes occur. The shot clock winds down to 10. 9. 8…
  4. JR Smith takes a stepback jumper or Carmelo tries to draw contact at the rim.

The lack of sets on O has especially doomed Steve Novak, who was on the receiving end of a solid amount of open looks early on thanks to several screens. Nowadays, you can usually find Novak in either corner of the court, defender on his hip, desperately trying to position himself for a feed that never gets fed. In his last 12 games, Novak’s points per game are down to just six, and his three-point attempts are down to 3.8. For comparison, Novak was launching 6.1 attempts from deep upon entering the rotation last season.

Since Dec. 17, the Knicks have been the definition of an average team: 15-15 in their last 30 tries. The Garden has been the Mecca of Mediocrity for some months now, and the Knicks have their hot start to thank for their third place standing in the East.

That start is also what they’ll have to thank if they eventually do get back on track. For this team to win, Woodson can re-implement several aspects of November and December into the right-now. It’s amazing how far some set plays and defensive effort can go.

So no, Mike Woodson won’t be recognized as the league’s top coach. That was a bit naïve of us to expect. But he does have what it takes to get the Knicks back on track, and even make a serious run in the postseason — he proved that much to us back in November. Now it’s just a matter of if Woody can do what his predecessor never could: adjust. With the necessary changes, the Knicks could contend for a ring this spring. But they’ll need that coach from the first two months of the season to do it. That guy can coach.

Making Sense of the Senseless Jeremy Lin Situation

Well, if you turn to any national media source, you would be led to believe that Jeremy Lin has already bought a nice Houston home, and is looking forward to beginning training camp with the Rockets alongside, well, nobody. Although the Knicks have made a move to acquire point guard Ray Felton, Lin’s one-way ticket out of New York has not been punched yet, and if you try to use any ounce of common sense you have left after this NBA offseason, you’d realize that letting Lin walk wouldn’t make any sense at all.

Come to think of it, no part of this whole situation has made much sense from the very start. Ever since Coach Mike Woodson’s first days at the helm of the team, he’s been lukewarm-at-best on Lin. Peep this quote from May 10th:

“Will he start? Only time will tell. He’s had some success in our league where he’s played at a high level, and he’s done a lot of nice things for our ballclub.”

Not overly embracing words from Woodson. Fast forward to the acquisition of Jason Kidd, however, and Woodson seemed to have pulled a 180.

“Jeremy was our starter before he got hurt. Unfortunately he went down with the injury and he’s not going to be punished for that. He has a lot to do this summer. But when he comes back to veterans, he’ll have the first nod. He’ll be our starter, and Jason will back him up in terms of helping him develop and developing this young man into a great point guard.”

An interesting change of heart. But was it? Or was this simply a charade put on by the Knicks organization?

Jeremy Lin was gifted to the Knicks for practically nothing. Re-gifting, especially in this situation, is very bad.

After giving up significant pieces to acquire Felton, the latter seems more and more like reality. But why give these false endorsements? Why act as if the Knicks’ long-term option at point guard will be Jeremy Lin, when he’s already packing his bags?

On the other side of things, if Woodson’s words were sincere, why in the world would Raymond Felton agree to return to the Knicks as a 3rd point guard? Felton is coming off a rather miserable season, but he would presumably garner some interest as a first guard off the bench from some team. Was his desire to return to the Garden stronger than his desire to play meaningful NBA minutes?

Would the Knicks lie to Felton’s camp, and give the impression that Lin is a goner, only to match Houston’s offer? That seems a little shady to be NBA business. What also seems a little on the suspicious side, is hiding from Rockets officials who were sent to physically deliver Lin’s offer sheet, to buy themselves time to decide on whether to match or not. (League rules require the offer sheet to be physically delivered. The receiving team has three days upon receipt to reach a decision.)

Aside from the murkiness of the act, why would the Knicks need to buy themselves time if they’ve already decided not to match. They know the numbers. Do they really need the 3+ days to go over language? Presumably no.

As has been widely publicized, Houston’s offer to Lin is a “poison pill” deal. Under the Gilbert Arenas Rule, teams may only offer the league average salary ($5M) in contract year one, to players with less than two years of service time. They are due for a small raise in year two. Year three, though, bears no restrictions on salary. This is why the structure of Lin’s deal is:

Year 1: $5 million

Year 2: $5.25 million

Year 3: $14.8 million

The key for the Knicks here, and the reason Houston structured the offer this way, is that in the third year of the deal, the Knicks would have Amar’e Stoudemire ($23,410,988), Carmelo Anthony ($23,530,000), Tyson Chandler ($14,596,888), and Lin ($14,800,000) on their books for a combined $76 million. Teams start paying the luxury tax once they exceed $70 million. After considering all luxury tax penalties that will be in effect by 2014, Jeremy Lin’s $25 million contract would end up costing $43 million out of James Dolan’s pockets.

This is supposed to be the factor that steers the Knicks away.

The Knicks, who shelled out $60 million each to Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, $30 million to Jared Jeffries and Jerome James, and paid a 30-year-old Steve Francis over $20 million for a season and a half, are supposed to be scared out of a deal because of paying a luxury tax.

But there’s always the basketball argument. That is, that the Knicks truly think that Felton at $4.5million/year is of better value than Lin’s new deal. This argument would only lead you to believe that Isiah Thomas is still calling the shots behind the disguise of Glen Grunwald.

Raymond Felton has been a mediocre-at-best player since his arrival in the NBA in 2005, aside from a 54 game stretch under Mike D’Antoni two seasons ago. What’s not funny, but infuriating about the whole thing, is that the argument from a group of decided NBA fans is that it would be silly to hand Lin reigns to the team after 35 games, when the Knicks would essentially be paying Felton off his 54 games as a good point guard in New York.

Felton showed he could be a good point guard during his prime years during his stint in New York. He showed scoring and defending ability, however was incredibly inept at executing a simple pick-and roll.

Lin showed that he could be a good point guard at 23 years of age, in essentially his rookie year. His pick-and-rolls were up to par with the best in the game, considering he had the offensive wizards, Jared Jeffries and Tyson Chandler, as his partners. His shooting caught everyone by surprise; he was among the league leaders in pull-up jump shot percentage. His defense was active, but not stellar. Take into account that he was carrying all of New York City on his shoulders, and Felton’s Knick tenure is more or less irrelevant.

Take away Lin’s half-season in New York and you have nothing. Take away Felton’s half-season in New York and you have six-and-a-half years of mediocrity. Neither would be offered more than a minimum salary if it wasn’t for their New York body of work. So to those of you who detest paying Lin off his body of work, you must consider the same for Felton.

The addition of Felton does not necessarily mean the demise of Linsanity, as several news sources are guilty of assuming. The Knicks have a need at shooting guard while Iman Shumpert recovers from a torn ACL. Instead of taking a chance on the so-so guards left on the free agent market, Woodson could run out lineups with Lin and Felton sharing time at point guard, with Jason Kidd at the other guard– a position he found himself in often last season in Dallas. Lin’s scoring ability leaves him as an option to play at the wing as well, and let Felton, Kidd, or even Pablo Prigioni run the point. The addition of Felton actually compliments the Knicks guard needs pretty well, as long as Lin is still in blue and orange laundry.

There are so many questions that are up in the air right now, but if when it’s all said and done, James Dolan passes on a 23-year-old point guard who carried a team of scrubs on a season-changing winning streak (in Stoudemire and Anthony’s absence), in favor of pinching his wallet shut for the first time in his excruciating incumbency as owner, then it may finally be time to put this monster to rest.

NBA Free Agency 2012: New York Knicks

We’re about 25 hours deep into the frenzy that is NBA Free Agency, and it’s already spewed out more reports and rumors than any fan can handle, so let’s get right into it.

The Knicks’ first priority is clearly Steve Nash. A farfetched pipe dream, it seemed merely a day or so ago, has turned into a very real and interesting option for New York. For months, the national and local media had everyone believing that all the Knicks could offer Nash would be their $3 million Mid-Level Exception, and their July 1st conversation would go something like this:

GM Glen Grunwald: “So Steve, we’d really love for you to join our squad and be the missing piece so we can compete for a championship.”

Nash: “Me too.”

GG: “Our offer to you is $3 million per year for three years.”

Nash: “OK, bye.”

But early Sunday, reports emerged from all walks of the internet that Phoenix has interest in Knicks guard Landry Fields, which opened the door for a sign-and-trade.

In such a deal, the Knicks could swap Fields (who’d sign for his $2.7 million Qualifying Offer the Knicks extended to him on Wednesday), Toney Douglas, cash considerations, and the non-guaranteed contracts that belong to Jerome Jordan and Dan Gadzuric. The $3 million in cash sent by New York would basically cover the cost of Douglas’ contract, so consider Phoenix getting him for free. The Suns could then waive Jordan and Gadzuric at no cost to them, opening two roster spots. I haven’t heard any speculation of this, nor have any confirmation that this is allowed under the new CBA, but including the draft rights to recent draft pick Kostas Papanikolaou could help entice Phoenix as well.

The combined salary of the package Grunwald would send out to the desert would be $6.82 million. As per new CBA rules, teams are allowed to receive back the same value they send out, plus 150% + $100,000. So $6.82 x 1.5 + 100,000 = 10.3, meaning the Knicks would be able to receive back a $10.3 million player.

This ~$10.3/year contract that the Knicks can potentially offer to the Suns would compete with the reported 3 year/ $36 million offer that the Toronto Raptors sent Nash’s way on day one of Free Agency. Consider the basketball situations of both teams, the fact that Nash has made his summer home in NYC for the past decade or so, and (if you wanna get ticky-tack) the greater income tax in Toronto than in New York, even the most Canadian bone in Nash’s body would be halfway through the Garden entrance.

It’s simply a matter of whether or not Suns GM Lance Blanks would pull the trigger.

This is essentially the only method of losing Nash that hauls a return for Phoenix, rather than just losing him outright. A package structured around Landry Fields may not be the sexiest group of names to show off to your fans, but one would suspect that getting some sort of return would be better in Blanks’ eyes than letting Nash walk for free. Also, it would be in good faith for the Suns to do their best to place Nash in the most realistic option possible to get him his hardware.

Fields isn’t exactly coming off a historic season, but keep in mind the better of his two seasons was played under an up-tempo system, similar to the one the Suns run. Fields made All-Rookie first team that season.

For the Knicks, adding Nash would be pretty horrible news for the rest of the Atlantic division. Pairing Nash with Amar’e Stoudemire to rekindle some of that old fire they started out West could be just what Amar’e needs at this point in his career. Don’t forget about the newly motivated All-Star small forward who just witnessed his career-long rival win his first championship, either. Nash coming to New York would also provide him with a second job: a mentor to developing star Jeremy Lin– not a bad guy for Lin to mold his game after.. Also, Nash starting at point guard would push Lin to the second team– a team possibly consisting of Lin, JR Smith, Steve Novak, and Jared Jeffries. Mobb Deep II.

Update: There have been reports in the last hour that have pointed out that the Knicks may not necessarily match a back-loaded offer made to Lin by teams such as Toronto, Dallas, or the Nets. I fully expect Lin back on the Garden floor to begin next year and these reports are nothing more than speculation at this point. Especially after the “Bird Rights” hearing that clogged our Twitter feeds for the past month, the Knicks are confident they will be able to resign Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash or no Steve Nash.

The Steve Nash situation will be the first domino to fall this offseason. We can expect a decision in the coming days.

It’s also important to note that if the Knicks obtain Nash via sign-and-trade, they’d still have their $3 million MLE in their pocket to spend on important role players.

The Knicks also checked up on an old friend, Ray Felton, on Sunday. If Nash spurs New York for Toronto, Phoenix, Dallas, or Brooklyn, Felton would be another option to back up Jeremy Lin at the 1. Felton failed to impress in a non-D’Antoni offense last season in Portland, but his return could spark the pick-and-roll combo that helped throne Amar’e Stoudemire king of New York.

Jason Kidd is also expected to receive a call from Grunwald and his team some time this week.

Outside of the point guard position, the Knicks need a legitimate shooting guard. JR Smith is no lock to return, and even with a new contract in New York, Smith is best designed for a limited-minutes role (see Round 1, 2012 NBA Playoffs). Ray Allen is currently coveted by a few teams, receiving formal offers from Memphis (full $5 million MLE) and Miami (full $3 million MLE). Boston’s interest in re-signing Allen is unclear this early in the game.

The Nuggets declined to extend Rudy Fernandez his Qualifying Offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. Fernandez would be a great asset off the bench, or possibly even starting until Iman Shumpert returns from injury. Fernandez would help the Knicks on the offensive end, where they especially struggled last season.

An area in which they excelled in 2011-12, however, was defense. The Knicks are on a list of teams Marcus Camby is considering, which would only help bolster their strong front line.

Phew. Am I missing anything? Probably. New reports have probably emerged in the time I took to write this up. Oh well, any major developments will be provided either in an update below or in a new post entirely.

Happy Free Agency! And may the Collective Bargaining Agreement be ever in your favor.

Bring back the puns! Must-Lin in Miami!

For the last month or so, Jeremy Lin has been nothing more than a fond (but distant) memory to the Knicks and their fans. Perhaps the most publicized period of ‘Bocker history, Linsanity provided us all with moments we’ll be sure not to forget any time soon.

Remember this?

Then there was this one.

What about when he nearly dropped 40 against LA?

In a matter of weeks, Jeremy Lin went from NBA bench-warmer to international icon. But the Linsanity subsided just about as quickly as it had taken America by storm. On April 2nd, he underwent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus, and was slated to be sidelined for six weeks. Well, it’s been five, and the man who saved the Knicks season once already, might just have to do it again.

Speculation of a Lin return had been clogging everyone’s Twitter feeds for much of the Knicks first round series against Miami. Despite participating in practices and 3-on-3 scrimmages in between games, Lin’s sore knee was just too painful to play through. This, of course, was before starter-by-default Baron Davis went down in Game 4 with a torn patella tendon and complete tears of the ACL and MCL (yes, it looked just as bad as it sounds).

The Knicks face a few alternatives. Mike Bibby, who decided to turn back the clock this postseason, has hit several big shots for the team while contributing smart decisions from the point guard spot. Coach Mike Woodson has said he’ll be the new starter for Game 5.

After that, who knows?

Photo credit: Getty Images
Lin has been practicing and participating in 3-on-3 scrimmages with the team ever since the playoffs began. Although ahead of schedule, Lin is still days or weeks from being at full strength. The Knicks now need him, despite his less-than-ideal health, to stand a chance against the Heat.

Woodson has mentioned a JR Smith/Carmelo Anthony combination to run the point for the second team. Former coach Mike D’Antoni experimented with Anthony running a point forward-type position early in the season, and watched it fail miserably. What we’ve learned this season, if nothing else, is that Carmelo Anthony is not your ideal playmaker. He’s not going to be your point guard, he’s not going to run pick-and-rolls. Carmelo will go against his defender and take him 1-on-1. And when he’s on, there’s close to nothing that will stop him.

And you can go ahead and add JR Smith to the list of “people I’d rather suffer from food poisoning than watch play point guard.”

Smith has a number of abilities on the basketball court, sure. Playing intelligent basketball, however, definitely is not his strong suit. What the Knicks need out of their point guard is someone who can logically distribute the ball between Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Perhaps Smith would settle that issue– by calling his own number twenty-something times. JR at PG is not the answer for the Knicks if they want to claw back into this series (I’m purposely failing to mention his consistent, mindless fouling along the perimeter/late in the shot clock, for the sake of my own sanity).

After Iman Shumpert’s tragic, season-ending knee injury, and with Toney Douglas being considered an afterthought by Mike Woodson these days, this leaves but one option for New York.

When this Knicks team looked lost with nothing to fight for in mid-February, Jeremy Lin was the team’s last resort before, well, thankfully we never found out. Right now the Knicks are out of options. They’re looking for one last winning streak. Lin succeeded at doing the impossible earlier this year, when he seized his opportunity and morphed from the NBA equivalent of an ant, into the most beloved sports figure in all of New York.

Now, the impossible will be asked of him once more: to beat the powerhouse Heat on their home floor, get the Garden faithful to rally behind them for a Game 6 victory, and lay it all on the line in a seventh game, back in South Beach. Is this a lot to ask out of the 23-year-old neophyte who, at best, would be playing with three-quarters in the tank? Seeing that this particular neophyte was plucked fresh out of the D-League, and was asked to single-handedly become New York City’s hero, and did it, I’ll take my chances with number 17.


Dr. Woodson Cures the Linsanity?

February 16th, just one month ago. One man was driving the world’s biggest city insane. 25 points here, 10 assists there. He hogged half of SportsCenter all to himself. He outshone Kobe in front of a national audience, then turned away the defending champs with career highs. T-shirts… t-shirts everywhere. Hell, Spike even rocked that crimson jersey. Jeremy Lin was John, Paul, George, and Ringo, all in one body.

Then, just as the entire basketball world was pleading Linsanity, star power arrived. Carmelo Anthony rejoined the mix, promising the world he wouldn’t dare interrupt the Jeremy Lin Show. Before long, however, New York’s favorite son was strapped into the backseat of a ride on a crash-course. The Melo-Mobile has since tossed one man from the wagon; as Anthony refused to comply with Mike D’Antoni’s offensive theories, we learned who’s really in the driver’s seat. What Carmelo wants, Carmelo will get. That leaves no man safe. Even the man that was once dubbed the savior.

What Carmelo Anthony refused to adhere to under the D’Antoni offense was spread-the-floor, pick-and-roll, shoot-if-you’re-open basketball. Every NBA player’s dream gameplan somehow was Melo’s nightmare– numbers agree, this is his worst statistical season since, well, ever.

The point guard-heavy offensive strategy is now out the window. New coach Mike Woodson’s prime offensive beliefs consist of iso’s and post-ups– a scorer’s delight (just take a look at Joe Johnson’s stats from 2005-2010). Woodson has declared that his offense will be ran through the likes of proven scorers such as Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire who, for what it’s worth, developed into a star under D’Antoni’s system. P&R point guards such as Jeremy Lin simply aren’t as necessary under this new ideology. So as Carmelo Anthony will likely flex his muscles while playing in the offense he’s wanted all along, where exactly does this leave Lin?

If you believe what you read, and if you use the logic Mike Woodson likely will in the coming days and weeks, the answer to that question is the second team.

Current second stringer Baron Davis will be the new man for the job, according to the NY Daily News. Davis has been around the block, and knows that his best bet for a ring is to feed the rock to Melo and Stoudemire. He’s ran the iso-style offense in the past, and after all, this is the job he signed up for back in December while rehabbing the back injury that delayed his season debut until after the Lin phenomenon had already kicked in.

The Knicks’ sensational second squad seems like a perfect fit for Lin, although it would mean decreased minutes. Aside from Tyson Chandler, players like Iman Shumpert, Jared Jeffries, and Steve Novak are the guys Lin was mainly distributing to when his starting gig was all new and shiny, with Stoudemire and Anthony both missing from the lineup.

However, due to D’Antoni “riding him like freakin’ Secretariat,” as he put it himself, and leaving the second-year wonder out there for 40+ minutes a game most nights, defenses perdictably adjusted relatively quickly.

Since teams have keyed on Lin as the primary option, his production has significantly decreased. While still putting up respectable points and assists totals, his turnovers and shooting percentage have become increasingly detrimental. His least productive start to date occurred Wednesday, Woodson’s first game as coach. Lin scored 6 points with 6 assists and turned it over 6 times. Baron Davis scored only 4 but with 10 assists in less minutes than Lin.

Although everybody loves a true Linder… err… Cinderella story, it appears as if this one is coming to a close. Though Jeremy Lin’s talent is not in question, he’s simply being overruled. Overruled by who, you ask? By the same teammate that spoke up and suggested that D’Antoni transplant him from the bench to the starting lineup: Carmelo Anthony.

Not What They Signed Up For

“Playing out there is not fun.”

I’d imagine Carmelo Anthony is completely right; getting completely outplayed, booed by your home crowd, and benched for the closing minutes against a division rival must not be all that enjoyable.

Now that the season’s at a crossroads, following a five-game skid after reaching the .500 mark last month vs. Cleveland, Melo and co-culprit Amar’e Stoudemire (who has looked nothing short of washed up for most of the season) have some serious issues to address if they look to lead the Knicks to the postseason for a second consecutive season, something they haven’t achieved since the Jeff Van Gundy era.

For starters, Anthony must either sit and rest his injuries that seem to be hampering his play, or simply put his shooting woes behind him. To his credit, he’s been playing with injuries basically all season long. What seems to be the case, however, is that the week he took off earlier in the season was not enough. His jumper has been flat, and looks lost on offense the majority of the time. His .39 shooting percentage since returning, which isn’t that far off from his full-season total, is hurting the Knicks playoff chances, not helping them.

The same can be said for Amar’e Stoudemire, who, following an MVP-type debut season in Gotham, has looked greatly disabled in all facets of the game. Potential excuses include the back injury he suffered in last season’s playoff series against Boston, the 15 pounds of muscle he added over the past offseason, or mere indifference. Amar’e has recently shed ten of those additional pounds, and looks to lose the remaining five in the coming days– so we will soon find out if this was a real issue.

Following Sunday’s loss to the division-leading 76ers, Amar’e said candidly, that the team was just “going through the motions.” And he’s right. Opposing teams run up and down the Garden floor at will, as if they’re playing a JV. A very expensive JV.

The duo, who take up over $36 million of the Knicks’ payroll this season, has simply brought inadequate energy and effort to Madison Square Garden. So much so, that coach Mike D’Antoni left the reserves in to close out Sunday’s matinee versus Philadephia, and rightfully so. It was evident that that squad provided the most energy and flat-out played better. Carmelo spoke on this after the 106-94 loss.

“I don’t really know what was Coach’s mindset. Maybe he was trying to save us for tomorrow. I’m not sure. You’re going to have to ask him.”

Clearly frustrated over the situation, it’s almost as if he doesn’t comprehend how much of a liability he has become on the floor.

“We’ve just got to figure it out,” he says.

Well, the time for “figuring out” has came and gone. Especially in this condensed 66-game season, there is little time for adjustments and rest. Anthony and Stoudemire must lead by example, if they do indeed wish to call it “their” team, and at the very least bring a positive energy to the court. The Knicks aren’t a team opponents fear playing. This is unacceptable for a team of the Knicks’ caliber, and must be changed.

Then there’s the coaching issue. Mike D’Antoni has quickly fallen out of favor with the Garden faithful. Players’ lack of energy or motivation can sometimes be attested to their coaching. Players quitting on their coach in crucial games at this important time in the season is simply inexplicable. That’s one issue. Another, however, is player misuse. Save Sunday at MSG, D’Antoni has repeatedly benched his second team in the final minutes of close games, only to watch the starters squander whatever chances the team had of winning.

D’Antoni also has a knack for benching players at the wrong moments. See Sunday for example, When Camelo Anthony opened the first quarter shooting 5 of 7, and 12 points– clearly the closest Melo has looked to being Melo. To open the second, D’Antoni, ignoring what he just saw on the court, stuck to his usual plan of resting Anthony. He then went on to miss every shot he took for the remainder of the game, flushing any resurgence down the drain.

D’Antoni’s stubbornness and failure to adjust is what will eventually do him in, whether it be sooner or later. Mike Woodson’s seat on the bench will then become all that more important, as he will presumably slide in to fill the vacancy that D’Antoni leaves, whenever that may be.

After all, Woodson was brought in as the “defensive coordinator” following last season when the Knicks allowed over 105 points per game. That number has shrunk to 96 this season, to the credit of Woodson, and enforcer Tyson Chandler who has been the team’s best all-around player this season.

Defense has actually been something of a strong suit at time this season for New York. The emergence of Jared Jeffries as a useful defensive piece off the bench, and rookie Iman Shumpert providing invaluable perimeter defense (currently 4th in the NBA with 1.94 steals per game), has surprisingly brought about a change of culture, with the whole team buying in at times. Imagine that.

More bright spots (yes, there are bright spots) this season include that second team that has provided so many key minutes this season. Led by Shumpert, sniper Steve Novak who’s shooting a lethal 48% from beyond the arc, and vet Baron Davis who has shown glimpses of Boom Dizzle circa 2004, this squad is responsible for Mike D’Antoni’s duties still being considered active.

But how much longer can this last? Not long if you ask me. Championship Winning teams are not marred by the issues the Knicks currently have. And they start from the top. It’s only a matter of time before the problems need to be cut at the sourceand the sooner the better. 

Look, it is possible to write a 1000-word Knicks piece without mentioning Jeremy Lin.